Do you like cats and video games? Do you have fond memories of classic series like Metroid or Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? Do you like games that allow you to collect cute animals? Do you like games with female protagonists who are not questing for romantic love? If you answered “Yes” to these questions then the recently released Catmaze by Redblack Spade just might be the game for you!
Story: In Catmaze, you assume control of Alesta, a young sorceress just discovering her powers. Her beloved mother passes away due to an illness, and Alesta sets off to find the entrance to the land of the dead so that she can bring her mother back to life. She leaves home with her bat familiar, Lad (basic melee attack), and sets off into a land based upon Slavic folklore. On the way, she finds numerous other familiars who provide different melee and ranged attacks as well as other benefits. Throughout her journeys, a mysterious cat guides her.
It’s a simple story, but most quests are simple: “Slay X,” “Rescue X”, “Acquire X,” for [Reason 1]. That said, I love that they’re using Slavic folklore, and while we can critique this for still being “Eurocentric,” it’s nice to see some lore get brought out that’s not super familiar to gamers in the West. It’s always exciting when a game makes a mythological reference that I have to research because it means the game engages me enough to learn about the inspiration.
Similarly, I’ve noticed that most games that Steam lists as “female protagonist” are either rather pervy games, games with a female lead wearing skimpy “armor”, or they’re visual novels/dating sim games. And those can be well-done, that’s not the issue. Here’s a female character who is showing agency and interacting with numerous characters while on a quest to save someone she loves – but not in a cliched romantic way. Taken with the story, this is a nice spin on a tale similar to the Orpheus and Eurydice tale that may be more familiar to most players.
Gameplay: The gameplay is what you would expect from a Metroidvania-style puzzle/platformer. There are numerous areas that are inaccessible until you complete certain requirements or find certain items. On that front, it’s what a player would expect.
The controls require a little practice. Overall, the controls are solid. There are, however, a few minor issues. Jumping onto platforms floating in water requires precision, as the “hit detection” box for jumping tends to be small, and falling in water is death. And hitting targets with the swing of a melee familiar requires precise timing. Beyond that, the controls are responsive, and even the problems don’t break the game. It’s still a fun experience to play.
Graphics and Sound: Catmaze has a Studio Ghibli vibe to its aesthetics. The old-school pixel graphics are bright and colorful, and the music is calming and happy. The music could be varied a bit more than it is, but overall, it’s still a great sonic appearance. I don’t have trouble differentiating Alesta or any other NPC or monster from the background. Overall, the visual and auditory experiences are super enjoyable.
Final Thoughts: I haven’t found a lot at fault with Catmaze in terms of gameplay. I will say that there are fewer cats than I had hoped there would be in this game. Of course, for me, there could never be “enough’ cats. I’m enjoying this romp through a land inspired by a mythology with which I’m not super familiar. I’m enjoying playing as a witch (given that I am neopagan). I’m enjoying exploring and solving puzzles and figuring out how to get places. This game is a lot of fun.
Rating: 3.8 out of 4 Bats with Cat Ears and Witch Hats.